Week 2 of the 2019 NFL season was soul-crushing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints.
It wasn't bad enough that both teams lost Sunday, with the Saints falling 27-9 to the Rams in Los Angeles and the Steelers dropping to 0-2 after losing 28-26 at home to the Seattle Seahawks.
As a result, two teams with Super Bowl aspirations may have just seen their hopes of a February trip to Miami leave along with them.
What Roethlisberger's Injury Means
Late in the first half against the Seahawks, Roethlisberger appeared to grimace and grab his elbow after a throw.
The 37-year-old didn't seem to be hit on the elbow, but when the second half opened, second-year signal-caller Mason Rudolph—not Big Ben—was under center.
As ESPN's Dianna Russini reported after the game, a Steelers player indicated Roethlisberger had been dealing with elbow inflammation all week. He's headed for an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury and how long he could potentially be sidelined, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
To his credit, Rudolph played well in relief. The 2018 third-round pick finished 12-of-19 for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, which was an improvement over Roethlisberger's final line (8-of-15 for 75 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions).
After the game, Rudolph told reporters he's ready to lead the Pittsburgh offense if need be.
"I am completely confident in myself, being a leader on the team and playing games," Rudolph said. "That's what it all comes down to. If (Roethlisberger is out a while), I'm ready to roll."
Veteran tight end Vance McDonald added that Rudolph has the confidence of his teammates.
"I think he's come a long way since last year," McDonald said. "So, yeah, if he's our guy, he's our guy and we're going to move forward with him."
The Steelers organization had enough confidence in Rudolph to flip backup quarterback Josh Dobbs to Jacksonville on Monday after the Jaguars lost Nick Foles. But if Roethlisberger is sidelined for a while, it'll be panic time in Pittsburgh.
In Week 3, the 0-2 Steelers head on the road to face a 2-0 San Francisco 49ers team in what has now become a must-win game. Since 1980, only six teams that started a season 0-3 made the playoffs, although the Houston Texans did so last year.
The Steelers are struggling defensively. Tailback James Conner also left Sunday's loss with a knee injury. And the Steelers could be without Roethlisberger for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time.
Thumb Injury Could Derail Saints' Season
Losing Roethlisberger is a disaster for the Steelers. Yet somehow, what happened to Drew Brees and the Saints in L.A. seems much worse.
In the first quarter of the NFC Championship Game rematch between the Saints and Rams, Brees' hand collided with the hand of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald as Brees was following through on a pass. He left the game with a thumb injury and did not return.
"It was a thumb and right away when he attempted to throw, he was having pain with it. It wasn’t anything elaborate," head coach Sean Payton said, via Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
It wasn't for a lack of trying. Brees tried to re-enter the contest, but he was incapable of gripping a football.
That screaming sound you hear is Saints fans bemoaning yet another bout of terrible luck—and perhaps the end of a promising season in which the Saints were considered among the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
With Brees on the field, the Saints looked like the class of the NFC South and a team capable of hanging with NFC powerhouses like the Rams and Dallas Cowboys. But when Brees left Sunday's game, the New Orleans offense went with him.
Veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater was pedestrian at best in Brees' stead, finishing 17-of-30 for 165 yards. Most of that came in garbage time, as Bridgewater didn't crack 100 passing yards until the fourth quarter and the Saints were held out of the end zone.
Payton indicated that the Saints will have an update on Brees "when the time is right," per Alper. But given the difficulty Brees had grabbing a ball, he doesn't seem likely to take the field next week in Seattle.
If the Saints get Brees back soon, this injury might not be a season-killer. After all, they play in a division that hasn't exactly come roaring out of the gates. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons are flawed teams, and the Carolina Panthers opened the season with a pair of losses at home.
However, Brees told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he's concerned the injury will sideline him for a while.
Bridgewater didn't look any better in a Week 17 spot start last season than he did Sunday, when the Rams quieted one of the league's best offenses.
If Brees is out for a substantial amount of time, the Saints are done. And with a trip to Seattle and a home date with Dallas upcoming, the scheduling gods haven't done them any favors.
Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. There's talk of the next man up every year, and the Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl two years ago with a backup quarterback.
But the Steelers' slow start leaves them with next to no margin for error, and Teddy Bridgewater isn't Nick Foles.
The cold, hard truth is that if Roethlisberger and Brees miss multiple weeks, the Steelers and Saints are likely finished as Super Bowl contenders.
There's just no replacing some guys.